Thursday, March 17, 2016

Olive Kitteridge (by Elizabeth Strout)

I had this book on my shelf for quite some time, having heard good things about it, probably around the time it won the Pulitzer. I finally picked it up as my airplane read on a business trip this week because the Read Harder Challenge has a category for reading a book, then watching the movie -- and the Frances McDormand adaptation is also very highly regarded.

I didn't realize that it was a linked series of short stories, all about the same Maine coastal town and all, to a greater or lesser extent, featuring the prickly and complex protagonist Olive Kitteridge.  I enjoyed the format in this case, although I did get a little frustrated -- as I often do with short stories -- to get invested in a character only to have the vignette end and then never find out what happens next.

Olive herself is an interesting choice as a heroine, since she can be... very difficult. Her lack of loveability, however, doesn't mean she's unloveable. I think you catch glimpses of real kindness and goodness beneath the difficult exterior, and you end up if nothing else really respecting her and being drawn to her. But there's also the implication that she did real damage to her child when he was growing up, which is a bit hard to get past. There's also the fact that I pictured Frances McDormand the entire time I was reading this. I guess that's neither a positive nor a negative, realy.

I'm very curious to see how the miniseries handles the vignette structure -- probably by putting the most emphasis on Olive's story and maybe leaving out some of the "side" plots? I do hope we get the drunk piano player and the story about Harmon and Daisy, though; I think those were my favorites. I will report back after I watch it so I fulfill the terms of the RHC fully.


Update, May 23, 2016

The miniseries is, indeed, great! The piano player was a background character, and there were no Daisy and Harmon. But overall it was such a smart adaptation.

Loved the casting, even if they didn't make Olive overweight -- Frances McDormand was almost perfect (overweight she would have been perfect) and Richard Jenkins was completely perfect. The closure for Kevin's story that didn't exist in the book was terrific. The confrontation in the hospital scene and the scene with Olive and Theo, which I believe were not in the original, heightened the drama quite a bit. And Denise totally broke my heart, as she did in the original.

The RHC asks you to decide which is better, I think? They are both great, but I think the miniseries hangs together a little more strongly and has the edge for me.

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